While news of the not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin was fresh in the minds of young AFSCME activists meeting on July 14 in Detroit, AFSCME President Joe Saunders rose to address the more than 500 union members.
“Sisters and brothers, as a trade unionist, I stand here appalled. As an African-American man, I stand here angry. As a father of two young men, I stand here heartbroken,” Saunders said. “(This trial is )about a broken system” that denied justice to an innocent African-American young man and to many more like him.
Later in his speech, Saunders announced that AFSCME would join the NAACP and the National Action Network in seeking justice for Trayvon Martin by petitioning the US Justice Department to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman for causing Martin’s death.
The audience responded with enthusiastic applause.
Other unions including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and SEIU are urging their members to sign the NAACP’s petition for Justice for Trayvon Martin.
AFT posted the petition on its website, and AFT President Randi Weingarten issued a statement about the verdict.
“While we believe in the rule of law and the jury has spoken, the implications of the acquittal are profound,” said Weingarten. “It is very disappointing that a racially profiled, unarmed African-American young man wearing a hoodie can be shot dead and there be no consequences for the perpetrator. This case reminds us that the path to racial justice is still a long one, and that our legal and moral systems do not always mesh. . . As the AFT pledged in a resolution passed at our 2012 convention, we remain steadfast in our commitment to fight for laws, policies and practices that will prohibit racial profiling at the federal, state and local levels.
Dennis Van Roekel, president of NEA, in an open letter to members urged them to continue to seek justice for Trayvon Martin.
“The National Education Association stands with the NAACP in calling for a full investigation by the Department of Justice,” wrote Van Roekel. “A full federal civil rights investigation is essential. As educators, it is our responsibility to our students to set the example by acting to seek justice, to teach fairness, and to provide comfort to students and families who grieve.”
SEIU also posted a copy of the petition on its website and posted comments from members about their reactions to the verdict.
“I’m the mother of two grown sons and I worry,” wrote Vivian Oliver, a cleaner who lives in the Bronx. “They are Hispanic, and this easily could have happened to them. There is an imbalance of justice. I think that the verdict is atrociously unfair. You took the life of a person and you walk away. You took away his chance to be an adult and you took that away from his parents too.”
“”No parent should live in fear that their child could be shot because of the color of his or her skin,” wrote Monica Russo of 1199 United Healthcare Workers East-Florida, which represents members in the Sanford, Florida area where Martin was killed. “May God bless Trayvon Martin’s soul and give our communities the strength to carry the mantle by tirelessly confronting racism and injustice in Florida and across the country.”